In Arizona single mothers with young children face substantial challenges in meeting their economic needs. Almost one in three children under age six in the state live in poverty, affecting their need for future economic, health, and social supports. Currently, most Arizona low-income single mothers do not have any kind of post-secondary degree, substantially limiting their earning potential. This is further impacted by the lack of affordable childcare, the key for these parents to pursue training and education for higher-earning jobs.
The Women’s Foundation for the State of Arizona (WFSA) began to develop an approach to improve this situation by conducting research that identified 36 career tracks that would provide a self-sufficient wage in Arizona. To remove barriers for mothers who were in school to achieve their employment goals, WFSA approached state policymakers about rewriting legislation to eliminate the work requirement to receive childcare assistance. WFSA’s advocacy strategy worked in conjunction with a pilot initiative–a two-generation approach where the state would benefit. The Pathways pilot creates a pathway to self-sufficiency for single moms in their pursuit of mid-skill higher paying jobs that move families out of poverty and into financial security, while simultaneously benefiting their children with the education to set them on a path of opportunity. The amendment to House Bill 2016 eliminating the work requirement to receive childcare assistance was signed by Governor Ducey in 2021.
“These mothers typically straddle the lines of being able to become a self-sufficient person, while still living on the margins of poverty,” said Amalia Luxardo, Chief Executive Officer of WFSA. “Our immediate short-term goal is to get moms into career tracks that pay more than double minimum wage, so they don’t have to even think about letting go of the public benefits, because they don’t need them anymore. What we’ve been seeing for the moms who have been graduating is not having to turn back to needing any sort of public benefits, which is amazing.”
Amalia continued, “The long-term impact is to break what could have been generational poverty. Not only is mom now in a career track that pays a worthy wage, but we’ve also provided accessibility to high-quality childcare for her children so as they get older they have more opportunities. We break that cycle now so that families don’t get stuck in the public support system for years and years to come.”
Partners in the initiative include Pima Community College, Pima County OneStop and First Things First. Wrap-around support services for participants include kindergarten-ready childcare, education and career coaching, emergency funds, transportation funds, and clothing assistance. Cohorts are currently 20 women who support each other and refer other women to Pathways. Following the WFSA pilot, the initiative will transition to the YWCA Southern Arizona, which has extensive experience in helping women achieve economic success, and can increase the number of participants.